Understanding sleep disturbance in the context of malignant brain tumors: A qualitative analysis

Megan S. Jeon, Meera R. Agar, Eng Siew Koh, Anna K. Nowak, Elizabeth J. Hovey, Haryana M. Dhillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Sleep is an important element in health-related quality of life of cancer patients and caregivers. This study aimed to explore the experience of sleep disturbance in people with malignant brain tumors (BT) and their family caregivers. Methods: Participants were recruited from ambulatory neuro-oncology clinics. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 24 patients (67% with high-grade gliomas) and 14 caregivers. Data were analyzed thematically using a framework synthesis. Results: We identified six themes relating to perceptions of the nature, impact, causal factors, and interventions for sleep disturbance, beliefs about sleep and impact, and personal coping strategies. Participants described their sleep disturbance in terms of insomnia symptoms; most commonly difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep. Participants had varied views on causal factors including the BT diagnosis and treatment and caregiver burden. However, excessive thinking and BT-related anxiety were evident in both patients and caregivers. The described impact on daytime functioning due to non-restful sleep and fatigue appeared to be significant and many participants needed daytime naps, although they understated the impact on individual functioning. Some participants were reluctant to seek help from clinicians for sleep disturbance due to previous experiences where sleep disturbance was overlooked, or because they held negative views toward pharmacological interventions. Participants reported various coping strategies, ranging from relaxation-promoting techniques to behaviors to distract thinking at night that may instead disturb sleep. Conclusions: Psychological factors contribute to sleep disturbance in patients with BT and caregivers. This population may benefit from information about sleep disturbance and interventions targeting anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-189
Number of pages11
JournalNeuro-Oncology Practice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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